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Urban risk in Freetown

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I am John V. Rogers. I’m director of disaster management. I work in the office of national security. I have responsibility for the coordination of natural and man-made disasters in Sierra Leone. Disasters generally across the country have been happening. Over time, because of climate change vulnerability, we have actually seen an increase in severity [and] in the occurrence of disasters. Well, in Freetown the most– almost all of the communities are actually being exposed to a number of other risks. But more specifically, the informal settlements are highly being exposed to a wide range, or spectrum, of risk. Mostly – even during the rainy season, there often is– I mean flooding, that is really much more prevalent in those sort of environments.
Then you have fires. The communities themselves are also being exposed to the problem of multiple hazards of solid wastes - management problems often exist. And you have building collapse. And even poor sanitary environment, or poor sanitation, and poor processing, being experienced within all of these different communities. Yeah, mostly [they] are highly vulnerable. Of course, informal settlements exist along the coastline. Then, of course, some exist within inland, as well as even some others is at the top, hilltop. Risk is one of the things that we take into consideration when we do disaster management. And we do this in relationship with the development of data. What we have done over time is to do mapping.
Look at the population demographic set up and do some mapping. And in the course of doing mapping, we normally identify areas that are high risk and those areas that are low risk. Over time, people have come to settle in places. Those places are characterised as high risk areas. For example, those of us that are familiar with Freetown, if you go to the sea front, you realise we have a lot of informal settlements that have sprung up over time. People come in to harbour in those places.
And when you take the general characteristics of the settlement of those places, they don’t fall within the normal pattern of what is expected of normal settlements, because those places have all the vulnerabilities that you can imagine that are associated with slums. Again, you look up the hills, a lot of activities are being done. There have been a lot of land– illegal land reclamation. Those places that are referred to as reserved forests are being interfered with. People have done construction, urbanisation, development in those places, nearly interfering with those places that are not supposed to be settled.
So when you look up the hills, and you look at the sea front, these are the two most areas that we have been characterised as high risk areas, taking into consideration the reports that you normally get as a result of disaster occurrence.

In this video, Mr John Rogers, from the Office of National Security, ONS, and Mr Braima Koroma, of SLURC, talk about how risk is experienced in Freetown.

Various risks are present throughout the city of Freetown, with residents of informal settlements particularly exposed to the threats of landslides, fires, and issues associated with poor water and sanitation and improper waste disposal.

In some areas of Freetown, people have responded to these challenges by creating disaster management committees, which educate residents through a process of ‘sensitization’ and planning mitigation measures.

In others they collectively clear canals and drainage systems to allow water to flow quickly during strong rains.

Some residents have also built alert mechanisms. When rainfall is recorded beyond a certain threshold in hillside settlements, they call the settlement downstream to let them know they can expect flooding.

Beyond these collective responses, individual households have their own interventions. For example, in some flood-prone communities, such as Colbot and CKG, residents have raised their houses on concrete platforms to prevent flood waters entering.

Remember that you can learn more about Colbot and CKG on the Freetown interactive map

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Development and Planning in African Cities: Exploring theories, policies and practices from Sierra Leone

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